Two for an Extra-Wide Smile…
A seasoned timberframer shopping at the local hardware supply, picks up a hammer, checks the balance, and looks it over carefully. “They don't make these like they used to," he tells the salesman, " I've had the same one for over fifty years,…yep, just had to replace the handle six times and the head twice.”
Tom and Bob are framing a house, Bob notices Tom throwing away about every second nail,
" What are you doing?" he asks.
" The heads on the nails are on the wrong end," Tom replies.
" You idiot….don’t throw them away, save them for the other side," Bob retorts.
Role of the Timberframer
Throughout the world, where trees were abundant, structures of all kinds were built from wood. Craftspeople who designed and built these buildings were constantly improving their methods for joining the wood together at the intersection. Some craftspeople employ a quick light-frame construction joint that uses slender sticks of wood that are cut to length and nailed, or bonded together with glue or rope. Timberframing uses freshly cut timers, that are much heavier, much larger and are hand-sculpted to lock together at their intersections. Sometimes the joints are secured by large wooden pegs. Timberframing building methods are some of the oldest methods of joinery. In fact, one could refer to the building methods in millenniums rather than centuries.
Timberframing developed uniquely and independently in each region of the world. The major factor influencing whether a region developed a timberframing culture was the type of forests found in the region. Areas with softwood forests did not tend to develop timberframing, put instead roundwood framing. Since softwoods grow more quickly than hardwoods, and also tend to grow long and straight, these regions preferred to construct log homes instead. This is why northern European counties such as Russia and Sweden are better known for their log homes rather than timberframing. Throughout the rest of Europe, timberframing was more common.
Timberframing was a method that was commonly used my Roman builders. Roman architect and author, Vitruvius wrote about the Roman construction technique of opus craticum (wattlework or timber with clay infill) in his treatise on architecture, De architectura. Discovered in the 20th century, The House of Opus Craticum is a timberframed building still preserved from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. After the fall of Rome, the timebrframing techniques traveled all over the former Roman Empire. In what is now Germany, France and England, timberframing became the preferred method of construction. Unfortunately, by the year 1500, the massive demand for wood had led to widespread deforestation in Europe and especially in England. Construction methods stagnated for a while, even reverting back to traditional cob/mud buildings, until the colonial exploration of the America’s discovered the seemingly endless wealth of forests.
Timberframing also has a rich history in Asian, most notably Japan. Japanese timberframing was prized throughout the world since it style of joinery made it highly resistant to seismic stress. It also celebrated the use of lock joints that do not need to be pegged. This level of sophistication quickly propelled the Japanese style of joinery as one of the worlds finest and most emulated. The pagoda at Horyu-ji is a timber framed building that has been standing since the trees were felled in 594 AD, making it one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world.
Over the last 20 years, timberframing has seen a resurgence in interest. Beyond the elegant aesthetics of exposed timbers and open floor plans, timberframed structures enjoy a durability unmatched by stick-built homes. While there are many artisan timber framers who still employ hand tools to cut and fit timbers, the use of machines has dramatically increased productivity and brought down costs. Automated methods also mean that many of the builders, who often have the bad knees and backs that come with a lifetime of construction work, can continue their careers much longer than if they were moving and assembling timbers without machinery.
The Timberframer Finds Flow
Steven Kotler, best-selling author of Rise of the Superman, states that Flow is where "every action, each decision, leads effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next. It’s high-speed problem solving; it’s being swept away by the river of ultimate performance.” Although it feels like one accidentally falls into a state of Flow, in fact there is specific criteria that must be met to enter flow. The Timberframer works from there basic rules: The TF must have clear goals and progress, The TF must provide clear and immediate feedback to oneself, and the TF must be find the balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. Each joint is carefully measured and laid-out with pencil. It is then reviewed several times to make sure that all measurements are correct. Then the Timberframer will roughly cut tenors and mortaisesze. Finally, the Timebrframer uses their state of accelerated concentration to enables them to remove slivers of wood, sometimes paper thin, to achieve a perfect fit.
Words from Ethan Higgins, MFS TimberFrame Instructor
“Timberframing, to me, is a vehicle to bring a traditional skill into modern perspective, continuing its utility as a practical and responsible way to build structures with integrity which will serve as spaces for human connection. It is a trade that also affords the opportunity for personal betterment and deepening of the soul through the pursuit of beauty and dedication excellence in craft. Furthermore, it is an essential part of the more encompassing whole of the movement towards the re-establishment of a land-based and human-labor based economy, which I believe is the only viable path for our civilization. Only through a renewal of humanity laboring within landscapes, with natural materials and with each other, can we resist the inherent hazards of an industrialized and impersonal world. Building timber frames, then, is my form of commitment to this ideal, and I have had the good luck to work primarily for and with small farmers and fellow craftsmen who share it with me.”
Ethan Higgins, 2020
-“Men admire the man who can organize their wishes and thoughts in stone and wood and steel and brass.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
-“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” (Charles Dickens)
BENT. End-wall built on the ground then raised to their vertical position with a crane (or many willing hands and backs).
BIRDSMOUTH. A complex cut made at the tail end, or bottom, of a rafter that allows the timber to extend over and past the wall top plate, providing a greater bearing and attachment surface.
BUTT. One of the least complicated joints, in which mating pieces are square-cut and simply butted against one another.
CHAMFER. A 45-degree flat edge planed or routed along the outer, or “leading,” edges of a timber.
DOVETAIL. A commonly used joint that includes a fan-shaped tusk or tenon that drops into and interlocks in a similarly shaped pocket cut. The wedge-like shape of this extremely strong joint prevents the interlocked timbers from shifting or separating from one another.
GREEN TIMBER. Un-seasoned timber that is refereed to as “green.” The joints are cut green and fit into place. The joinery is designed to tighten and lock the joint as the green wood dries and shrinks in the framework.
MORTISE & TENON. A frequently used joint in timber framing, it includes a male end (tenon) cut onto the end of one timber that fits into a square-cut matching female receptacle (mortise).
TRUNNEL. A large wood dowel or peg used as a fastener in wood joinery. The word is derived from the descriptive term “tree nail.”
WEDGE. A wood shim inserted into a joint to tighten and lock the intersecting timbers in place.